Yueming Chen

Date of Award


First Advisor

Christopher Coggins

Second Advisor

Nancy Bonvillain

Third Advisor

Kathryn Boswell


This project analyzes a specific mode of political and cultural transformation that has been implemented in Tibet – shangrilazation. Shangrila, a term that represents the possibility of a heavenly paradise on earth, was invented by James Hilton in the world renowned novel Lost Horizon. The novel provides what may be the most compelling projection of the Western imagination and fetishization of Tibet. Shangrilazation, in a similar manner, is the process of politicizing space by exoticizing and marketing the landscapes and indigenous lives therein. This examination of shangrilazation traces its genealogy - the West has been imposing its colonial geographic imaginary upon Tibet since the seventeenth century - and deploys findings from four summers (2013-2016) of ethnographic field research on the contemporary tourist industry and charity groups in Qinghai Province, northeast Tibet. These sectors reveal the power dynamic of shangrilazation and how it draws on a history of colonial and post-colonial desires and spatial imaginaries. It explains how shangrilazation is composed of three historical steps, and how both Westerners and Han Chinese are contributing to the projection, creation, and confirmation of Shangrila(s).

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